April 21, 2023 – Whisper it quietly, but more and more people are relocating to Croatia from the diaspora. In a new TCN series, we meet them to find out how they are faring and what advice they have for others thinking of making the switch. Next up is Danijela Andric Casson, who moved from Dubai to Istria.
1. You made the switch to Croatia. Tell us a little about the decision process and how long it took for you to get on the plane?
To be honest, there was no plan behind it, it just happened… My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Kelly had developed severe asthma, and she was suffering from the dusty, sandy climate in Dubai, where we have been living since 2013. My vet suggested changing the climate for Kelly for a few days or weeks so that her lungs could recover.
No sooner said than done… we left Dubai on 20 March 2020 with one of the last possible planes to spend a few days in our holiday home in Croatia that we bought in the Autumn of 2019. A few days turned into months as all of Europe was in lockdown due to Covid 19. We enjoyed the contrast in the environment and started loving the peace, the freshness, the nature, the scents, and the freedom in Istria. I’m living now 9 months a year in Istria and 3 in Dubai which is a nice escape from the European winter! My husband travels extensively for business and so is able to use Istria as a base for his European travel while maintaining his office in Dubai for that part of the world.
2. What did your family and community back home think of your decision at the time?
No one could believe that I prefer the simple country life to my privileged and jet-set life in Dubai, least of all my mother. You need to know that, until this move, I haven’t lived a day in Croatia – Yes, I’ve been on annual holidays over the years and we had a family home there. I was born and raised in Germany, so it was hard for my family to imagine that I was the only one in the family who moved back to my roots.
My friends from Dubai came to visit me to see with their own eyes and experience why I give rubber boots priority over high heels. Everyone, without exception, had recognised the renewed spark and happiness in me since I have been in the powerful nature & environment of Istria.
Family and friends visit us often during the year visit me regularly and enjoy the weather, nature, sea and food & wine as they explore with us the wider area.
3. Where did you get your information about the realities of Croatia prior to coming?
We kind of discovered and learned as we went, relied on friends as well as great resources such as TCN and Expats Istria on Facebook. Being a native Croatian speaker of course helps tremendously.
4. What were you most nervous about making the switch? What was your biggest fear, and how was the reality of what you found?
As I slipped into it unintentionally, I honestly wasn’t afraid or nervous of anything because, as I said, I only intended to stay for a few weeks. A few weeks turned into months because of the severe worldwide travel restrictions due to Covid. I’m slowly feeling my way back into everyday life – still with the thought that in a few months I’ll be going back to Dubai… Now it’s time to get a foothold here as well as possible and slowly come to terms with the peculiarities of the Peninsula. Research has to be done like “where is a good dry-cleaning, where are the good winegrowers, where can you eat local and good food“, questions of everyday life.
When the travel restrictions for Dubai eased in the autumn of 2020, we flew back to the UAE where I didn’t stay long! I knew then that I had to go back to Istria, as Dubai no longer gave me that feeling of being at home nor comfortable. In Feb. 2021, I went back to Croatia and continued where I had left off…. I was able to continue my job online, so I didn’t suffer any restrictions here.
Many things are different here compared to Dubai, I don’t say better or worse, just different, but I can deal with it. Dubai, for example, is a very service-oriented country. There is nothing that is not delivered to your home whether it is things or services, could be massages, pedicures, hairdressers, chefs, blood tests, everything! Istria presents a simpler life but a rich and rewarding one on so many levels.
5. Think back to the time before you arrived. What were your perceptions about Croatia and how were they different from the reality you encountered?
As mentioned, I had all through my growing up years visited Croatia, keeping in touch with my roots and then thru an earlier role in travel got to travel and see most of the Country over several years and so have certainly been familiar and so, for me, the gap was not too dramatic.
6. You are still here, so obviously the pros outweigh the cons. Tell us about some of the things that you love about being in Croatia, as well as some of the things you don’t like.
I probably hadn’t anticipated the kindness or help of so many people that helped us settle in, and it was a joy to rediscover the food and wonderful wines of the region. On the flip side the bureaucracy gets frustrating at times, lack of consistent supplies in the shops and, coming from Dubai I do miss truly the variety and tasted of international food, especially Asian.
We bought our house, extensively renovated & enlarged it as well as buying large plots of land and dealing with the world of lawyers, land agents, Government departments contractors, craft workers and all the trades has been crazy at times, I could write a book. The end justifies the means though, as we love the home and environment, we have created, our little piece of heaven!
7. What advice do you have for others thinking about making the move from the diaspora?
Well, firstly, it seems the days of cheap real estate and land has largely disappeared over the past few years, as Croatia caught up with many areas of Europe. And with the Euro now in play, prices are less cheap than they had historically been. Speaking the language is pretty essential to get things done, especially with Government and locals. Healthcare is quite good on a basic level, but for more serious issues you would have to be prepared to go to Germany, Switzerland or UK.
As a professional Holistic Practitioner I’m playing my part in creating dedicated wellness retreats in Istria. The first of these will be here in September and you can find full details in this link:
Furthermore, I’m going to open my holistic practice here in Mofardini in July 1st , where we are offering Kinesiology-Session, Counselling, Nutrition & Supplement support according to your blood-group-type and parts of Traditional Chines Medicine. The treatments can be conducted in English, German and Croatian and cover a wide range of protocols. More details you will find on my homepage: www.bms-centre.com
8. How do you think Croatia can better assist those who are looking to return to the Homeland?
I never really sought nor expected help as it’s a personal decision that I was happy to make, and so then made sure to inform myself as I went along. I´m sure Paul´s new book will be of practical help to many, both a great read and practical resource!
Thanks, Danijela, and good luck with the retreats!
You can follow more stories in the Croatian Returnee Reflections series in our dedicated TCN section.
Would you like your returnee story – positive or negative – to be featured in this series? Contact [email protected] Subject Returnee.
What’s it like living in Croatia, and where can you get the best survival tips? TCN CEO Paul Bradbury and TCN Editor Lauren Simmonds have teamed up to publish Croatia, a Survival Kit for Foreigners.
Follow Paul Bradbury on LinkedIn.